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Energy drinks VS Pre-Workouts (and what they do)

Energy drinks VS Pre-Workouts (and what they do)

When it comes to sweating it out, you’re probably wondering what energy drinks and supplements work best for boosting your performance to get the best gains.

Sure, pre-workouts are great options – I mean, it’s in the name, but have you considered energy drinks as an alternative to pre-workouts?

You might also be wondering how energy drinks and pre-workouts are similar and different.

Energy drinks are catered to a wider audience who may want an energy boost for different activities. Energy drinks usually vary in ingredients and caffeine content. Nevertheless, you can still take energy drinks before your workouts so you can power through.

Pre-workouts are designed to boost your endurance and energy like energy drinks, but usually have higher caffeine content and ingredients for post-workout muscle recovery and hydration.

This article covers everything you need to know on the topic of energy drinks Vs pre-workouts.

Read on for a full explanation of how energy drinks work and what makes them different from pre-workouts to help you decide which is the better choice.

Let’s get started…

How Do Energy Drinks Work?

Energy drinks are beverages that provide you with energy, mostly as a result of caffeine, which is a stimulant that prevents fatigue and boosts alertness.

I’m sure you’re familiar with brands like Red Bull and Monster?

Aside from being favorite energy drinks of many athletes and celebrities, these two brands are available almost everywhere and marketed as great pick-me-ups to stay awake and active.

If you’re wondering why consuming energy drinks make you feel like you’re ready to take on the world, the secret lies in their ingredients, mainly caffeine. 

Caffeine can be found in many of your favorite foods and drinks. That cup of coffee you reach for first thing in the morning? Yeah, that has caffeine in it.

Not to mention the glass of iced tea you enjoy on a hot day contains caffeine too. Even chocolate (white chocolate is an exception) has caffeine as well. Thus, anything chocolate-flavored has some traces of caffeine.

Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine molecules, which regulates sleep, promotes muscle relaxation, and induce drowsiness.

Once you ingest caffeine, it takes about 45 minutes for caffeine to spread through your whole body and brain.

As caffeine blocks the adenosine molecules from playing their assigned roles, it also stimulates your brain to release dopamine. That’s why after you’ve consumed caffeine, you get a jolt of energy and feel more alert.

Though, after some time, you’ll start to feel tired again as the energy-boosting effects of caffeine start to wear off.

What are Pre-Workouts?

A few people in the gym working out.
Want to enhance your workout?

Pre-workout supplements, or simply pre-workouts, are dietary formulas that contain various ingredients that boost your energy and promote better athletic performance.

Generally, they come in powdered form that you can mix with water and drink before starting your exercise session.

Pre-workouts usually contain varying quantities of amino acids, caffeine, creatine, B vitamins and artificial sweeteners.

In a nutshell, pre-workouts work by exposing your body to a high dosage of caffeine that will give you a boost in energy and stimulate it to exercise intensely.

Can Energy Drinks be used as Pre-workouts?

Yes, energy drinks can be used as pre-workouts. As energy drinks contain caffeine and various other ingredients, similar to pre-workouts, they can provide you with a good energy boost.

This study showed that consuming energy drinks as a pre-workout supplement improves muscle endurance, which is definitely what you want during your workout.

If that isn’t enough for you, another study also proved that consuming energy drinks enhances muscle strength and endurance, and improved performance in jumping and sports-specific actions.

The sugar content in some energy drinks can also provide your body with fuel for your exercises. Thus, it’s completely okay to have an energy drink before you start your workout.

Ingredients in Pre-Workouts Vs Energy Drinks

Energy drinks and pre-workouts share a few ingredients: caffeine, sometimes guarana, and sometimes taurine. While some brands of energy drinks contain sugar, pre-workouts usually contain artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols.

These ingredients play a vital role in helping your physical performance, though excessive consumption of any ingredient can cause adverse effects, because you can have too much of a good thing.

People often wonder how energy drinks and pre-workouts differ in terms of ingredients. In truth, they are very similar.

There’s an invisible line regarding how much caffeine each has that is often the tell-tale sign about whether a particular brand is an energy drink, or in fact a pre-workout.

In general, pre-workouts have a lot more caffeine than most energy drinks.

However, there are plenty of brands of energy drinks that walk the invisible fine line between energy drinks and pre-workouts.

A few brands that immediately come to mind here:


A top view of a cup of coffee.
Caffeine helps to keep you awake.

While you probably already know that caffeine is what supplies you with a jolt of energy, did you know that isn’t the only thing that caffeine is good for?

Caffeine consumption has been claimed to improve several aspects of cognitive functions, including mood, memory, and reaction times.

Studies have shown that caffeine can improve vigilance and reaction time, on top of enhancing perceived exertion and information-processing speed, showing that caffeine makes a great brain fuel.

Aside from that, caffeine also promotes weight loss, where a few studies have attributed this weight-losing property of caffeine to its ability to increase metabolism by 3 to 11%.

Caffeine also significantly boosts physical performance, preventing fatigue, and even help you maintain physical performance even when you’ve missed a whole night of sleep.

If you’re not wowed yet, caffeine has also been proven to increase performance in a physical endurance exercise by 11%- 12%.

In brief, both energy drinks and pre-workouts can help increase your energy levels before starting a workout, because they both contain varying amounts of caffeine.

Though to be safe, you should limit your caffeine intake to less than 400mg a day as per the FDA’s recommendation, or you risk experiencing some negative side-effects such as:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability


Guarana is sometimes added to energy drinks and pre-workouts to increase the efficacy of caffeine in beverages.

As the fruit from the Guarana plant contains up to four times more caffeine than coffee beans, it’s a rich source of caffeine, which reduces fatigue and enhances mental focus.


Taurine is an amino acid that serves as a building block for proteins, found in certain parts of your body, and in foods like meat and fish.

Taurine also may reduce the risk of heart diseases and improve your heart health, as studies show that taurine can reduce high blood pressure by increasing the smoothness of blood flow to your brain.

Energy drinks and pre-workouts sometimes contain taurine for its benefits in improving exercise performance. Taurine has been proven to prevent cell damage and reduce the impact of exercise-related injuries.

A study conducted on a group of cyclists shows that there was a 1.7% improvement in their performance after consuming taurine capsules, which shows the effectiveness of taurine.


sugar in a glass jar
Too much sugar is never a good idea.

If consumed in moderation, sugar can definitely be a nice treat. However, excessive sugar in your body can cause sugar crashes, bloating, decrease energy levels and increase the risk of mood disorders.

Generally, the AHA recommends that the daily added limit for men and women should be less than 36g and 25g of sugar, respectively, any more than that may lead to health problems, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Heart diseases
  • High blood pressure

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, like Sucralose and Aspartame, are hailed as sugar substitutes as they are 100 to 600 times sweeter than table sugar, despite having no calories.

While controversies surround artificial sweeteners, the FDA has approved them as safe for consumption.

Therefore, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about consuming artificial sweeteners so long as you regulate your consumption.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are another alternative to sugar. They taste sweet like sugar but with fewer calories. However, sugar alcohols have been known to cause digestive problems like bloating and diarrhea.

Effects Of Pre-workout Drinks

No doubt pre-workouts are great supplements to have before your workouts, but they can cause side effects too, due to the caffeine and sugar alcohol present in the mix.

To be safe, you might want to watch out for these symptoms when it comes to consuming pre workouts:

  • Jitters
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Stomach aches
  • Bloating
  • Tingling sensation in hands or feet
  • Diarrhea

Fortunately, you can avoid these potential side-effects of pre-workouts by starting off with really small doses and only increasing your intake if necessary

That said, no matter how effective pre-workouts may be for you, make sure that you have them in moderation.

I suggest having pre-workouts on days when you’re planning to ‘go hard or go home’ at the gym and see if they work for you.

Are Pre Workouts The Same As Energy Drinks?

No, pre-workouts aren’t the same as energy drinks. While both pre-workouts and energy drinks contain similar ingredients, pre-workouts often contain creatine, more amino acids, and minerals. Importantly, pre-workouts typically contain a lot more caffeine than energy drinks, which may be good or bad, depending on your caffeine tolerance and what you’re hoping to get out from either drink.

Pre-workouts are designed to increase your energy levels and improve your physical performance, with ingredients that help your body perform better during exercise.

Among those ingredients are creatine and citrulline

Studies show that short-term use of creatine can improve your power and strength by 5 to 15%, while long-term use could enhance strength, muscle mass, and exercise performance.

Meanwhile, citrulline improves oxygen flow to your muscle tissues. When your body receives enough oxygen, it has more stamina and energy to exercise more, improving your physical performance.

If you’re still not too sure of the distinction between energy drinks and pre-workouts, have a look at the video below:

Are energy drinks good before a workout?

Yes, energy drinks can be great before a workout. Energy drinks contain caffeine and other ingredients that can boost your energy levels before exercise.

Besides that, energy drinks also often contain taurine and B vitamins that can augment your exercise performance.

Depending on what’s your go-to energy drink, I would advise you to switch it up and try pre-workouts occasionally because some energy drinks can contain excessive sugar and caffeine, which might lead to crashes.

If you’re interested to learn more, you can read more about taking energy drinks before workouts in my other article here.

Is Red Bull Good Before a Workout?

A can of Red Bull.
Red Bull, a true classic.

Red Bull makes a good pre-workout, as a can of Red Bull contains 110 calories, 80mg of caffeine, and 27g of sugar. all of which will give you a nice energy boost for at least an hour or two while you’re in the gym.

Personally, I generally prefer a caffeine content between 50 to 100mg in my caffeinated drinks, so Red Bull hits that sweet spot, having just enough caffeine to give you a nice boost without the risk of having too much caffeine.

On the other hand, the calories and sugar content in Red Bull is pretty high, but it should be alright as long as you’re sweating it out.

You can have a Red Bull as a pre-workout once in a while, but if possible, not all the time as it’s not exactly the healthiest energy drink. I would suggest checking out sugar-free Red Bull, which might suit you better.

For some recommendations for healthy energy drinks, check out the article I’ve written on the best energy drinks for health.

Is Pre-workout Healthier than Energy Drinks?

I wouldn’t say pre-workouts are necessarily healthier than energy drinks, although it might be true in some cases. Pre-workouts contain an awful lot of caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols, which could be harmful to your body if consumed too often.

In my opinion, both energy drinks and pre-workouts are beneficial when consumed in moderation. But if they’re not, you may get some nasty adverse effects.

Both energy drinks and pre-workouts can be good in the right situation and they both serve their purpose.

Ultimately, the choice of whether to go for energy drinks over pre-workouts, or vice versa, is up to your personal preference, because from a nutrition and benefits perspective, they are pretty similar.

Best Energy Drinks Before a Workout

Bang Energy Drink

A variety of different flavors of Bang Energy Drink cans
Some of the flavors of Bang Energy

Here’s the nutritional value of a can of Bang energy drink at a glance:

Calories0 calories
Overview of Bang.

With a hefty 300mg of caffeine, Bang is one of the strongest energy drinks available in the market. Hence, you might only want to have one can of Bang per day.

On that note, I don’t recommend this drink to anyone with a low tolerance for caffeine.

But the good part about Bang is that it’s calorie-free and sugar-free, so you won’t have to worry about gaining weight or having a sugar crash.

Advocare Spark

A sachet of Advocare Spark.
Care for an Advocare to spark your day?

Every sachet of Advocare Spark contains:

Calories15 calories
The brief nutritional value of Advocare.

Advocare Spark is a powdered energy drink that comes in many flavors. What I like about this energy drink is that it has zero sugar and very few calories.

The downside of this is that the caffeine content is a little higher than I would typically like, but it’s still a good choice to consider.

REIZE Energy Drink (10 out of 10)

A freshly mixed REIZE
REIZE makes a great pre-workout.

Each serving of REIZE energy drink contains:

Calories11 calories
The nutritional value of REIZE.

REIZE is my number one choice when it comes to energy drinks.

With a sensible 50mg of caffeine, REIZE is sugar-free and contains only 11 calories per serve.

REIZE also contains a smart mix of great ingredients like taurine, ginseng, and B vitamins that work together to give you the perfect energy boost, without the crash or the adverse affects of too much caffeine.

The best part is that it’s super affordable, at only about $1, including shipping!

That’s incredible value for money.

Give REIZE a try today and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a great pre-workout.

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